Shall We Dance? Part 3 -The Waltz

Why does the WALTZ (or French “Valse”) fascinate us? I’m sure it’s partly because it was so scandalous during the Regency, and partly because we love the potential for romance when our heroes and heroines share the intimate dance. This is a long post!! Bear with me –I couldn’t choose what to leave out.

The waltz existed as a form of cotillion and of English country dances long before the scandalous single couple version of it was introduced to England during the Regency. It is those types of waltzing that Jane Austen references in her writings. Here are links to two examples of country dance waltzes, which utilize the familiar ¾ time rhythm:

The Northdown Waltz 1806

The Duke of Kent Waltz 1801:

The waltz traces back to German peasant dances as old as the 16th century. Its history is similar to that of other dance types: what shocked the aristocracy and at first seemed beneath them eventually was adopted by them, because, well, why should only the peasants have fun? The turning, close-held waltz took hold in the higher regions of society by the 18th century in Bavaria and Vienna, and spread to France, where post-revolutionary society embraced it.

Why was the waltz so scandalous? The illustration at top, while exaggerated, gives you an idea, but this lovely video clip from the BBC explains most of it quite well. Besides the intimacy and close hold was the simple fact that the dancers were turning for much of the time, which could lead to ladies becoming dizzy and quite shockingly out of control of themselves!

In 1804 a German visiting Paris wrote, “This love for the waltz and this adoption of the German dance is quite new and has become one of the vulgar fashions since the war…” [the French Revolution]. The “new” form of waltz trickled into England slowly, scandalizing most of English society when they first saw it. The German ex-pats who made up the soldiers of the King’s German Legion are credited with introducing the waltz to residents of Sussex in 1804, but it was slow to catch hold in England, where moral codes were strict (well, stricter).

Early caricature of French “Incroyables and Merveilleuses” waltzing

In 1814, neither the waltz nor the quadrille were yet permitted to be danced in Almack’s. Some theorists say attendees at the Congress of Vienna (Sept 1814) first saw the dance there and brought it back to England. But Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian ambassador assigned to England starting in 1812, had been in Berlin prior to that assignment, so it makes sense that she learned the dance while there. She was the first foreign-born patroness of the mighty Almack’s social club and is said to have introduced the waltz there in 1815.

Dance Master Thomas Wilson’s book “A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing” came out in 1816. His famous illustration of the “nine positions of the waltz” is below (you can see the numbers underneath each one if you look closely). By then, the dance had become prevalent enough to be ridiculed by the cartoonists of the day, and popular with the young who always want the “new” thing.

Thomas Wilson’s “Nine Positions” of the Waltz

The royal courts, generally foremost in setting fashions in many areas, consistently lagged in the area of dance. In July of 1816, the waltz was included in a ball given in London by the Prince Regent. A few days later an editorial in The Times complained: “We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last … it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females….”

The Regency form of waltz was closely related to other dances: the German Landler, and the French Allemande, and the other dances that drew on these forms. At her Capering and Kickery website ( dance historian and teach Susan de Guardiola writes: “The early waltz looked quite different than the modern form. Dancers moved on their toes in a different pattern than what is seen in today’s competitive ballroom dancing, and adopted a wide range of “attitudes” of the arms…. Nor were waltzes choreographed, though Wilson suggested dancing different waltzes in sequence [slow followed by lively and back to slow again]. Entire ballrooms of dancers did not perform identical moves.” [Gail’s note: The name sometimes used for Regency waltz is the “pirouette waltz”.]

This video of five dances performed at the Royal Pavillion in Brighton is long, but at about 5:40 the dancers perform “The Allemande a Deux” (1780) which is a French modification of a German Landler.

If you compare it to the video of the single couple performing the Regency waltz (see next link), I think you will see some of the similarities, and you will also get a sense of how Regency waltzers did not all do the same figures at the same time. Regency Waltz/Valse 1826: (Video from the French National Historic Dance Championships –you have to love a country that holds such a thing!!)

If you are interested to know more, I found a fun video that compares the Regency style “pirouette” waltz to the later versions, here:

Do you think our modern version of the waltz has lost some of the “spice” of this earlier style? Or are you glad that our version is a lot easier to dance?

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Concerning Cosmetics

With almost everyone I know preparing for the annual Romance Writers of America conference, my Twitter is full of chatter about clothing, shoes, and makeup. So I thought I’d share a little about Georgian cosmetics (and yes, even when they supposedly went for the “natural look” in the Regency, they were using various concoctions to enhance what nature gave them).


From The Art of Beauty: “If ever paint were to be proscribed, I should plead for an exemption in favour of rouge.”

One of my favorite books for this kind of thing is The Lady’s Stratagem by Frances Grimble. She put together information about hygiene, cosmetics, fashion, laundry, and pastimes from six French ladies magazines from the 1820s. I know I’ve heard a lot over the years that women of the Regency didn’t paint themselves the way the ladies of the 18th century did, but I’m not convinced that’s true. I think it more likely they just opted for a more subtle application. The huge number of recipes for cosmetics in the period magazines convinces me that this is true. Ladies weren’t just pinching their cheeks for color, they were painting it on.

True Vegetable Rouge, or Rose in a Cup: Take the kind of red lac extracted from the safflower, which is sold cheaply under the name “rose in a cup.” Dry, it is a greenish-bronze. Dissolve it in a glass of water, and pour it on talcum power of on a piece of fine woolen. In this state it returns to a beautiful rose-colour. You may apply it to your cheeks without withering them, and if you have been careful in preparing the hue, the rouge will not be detected.

Portuguese Rouge: Of Portuguese dishes containing rouge for the face, there are two sorts. One of these is made in Portugal, and is rather scarce; the paint contained in the Portuguese dishes being of a fine pale pink hue, and very beautiful in its application to the face. The other sort is made in London, and is of a dirty, muddy red colour; it passes very well, however, with those who never saw the genuine Portuguese dishes, or who wish to be cheaply beautified.

Spanish Wool: Of this also there are several sorts; but that which is made here in London, by some of the Jews is by far the best. That which comes from Spain is of a very dark red colour, whereas the former gives a bright pale red.

Spanish Papers: They differ in othing from the above [Spanish Wool]; but the red colour, which in the tinges the wool, is here laid on paper; chiefly for the convenience of carrying in a pocket-book.

Chinese Boxes of Colours: These boxes, which are beautifully painted and japanned, come from China. They contain each two dozen of papers, and in each paper are three smaller ones, viz., a small black paper for the eyebrows, a paper of the same size of a fine green colour, but which, when just arrived and fresh, makes a very fine red for the face; and lastly a paper containing about half an ounce of white powder (prepared from real pearl) for giving an alabaster colour to some parts of the face and neck.

A further quote concerning the safety of these concoctions: “As to the carmine, the French Red, the genuine Portuguese dishes, the Chinese wool … they are all preparations of cochineal…and the least harm need not be dreaded from its use.”

Eyelashes & Brows

If you look at period Georgian portraits, you don’t see a lot of emphasis on the eyes. Not like today. But there were certainly recipes out there for cosmetics to darken the lashes and brows. The following are from one of the books quoted in The Lady’s Stratagem: To blacken the Eyelashes and Eyebrows. Rub them often with elder-berries. For the same purpose, some make use of burnt cork, or clove burned at the candle. Others employ black frankincense, resin, and mastic; this black it is said, will not come off with perspiration.

Wash for blackening the Eyebrows:  First wash with a decoction of [oak] galls. Then rub them with a brush dipped in a solution of green vitriol, and let them dry.

Black for the Eyebrows:  Take an ounce of pitch, a like quantity of resin and of frankincense, and half an ounce of mastic. Throw them upon live charcoal, over which lay a plate to receive the smoke. A black shoot will adhere to the plate; with this shoot rub the eyelashes and eyebrows very delicately. This operation, if now and then repeated, will keep them perfectly black.

Kohl: Kohl, of course, is ancient. With all the trade the English had with India, there’s no reason to assume that Kohl wouldn’t have been readily available. The OED clearly shows the word was known, though I see it in foreign contexts rather than mentioned as a cosmetic in use among the English.

1799 W. G. Browne Trav. Afr. xxi. 318 If any thing be applied in these is generally kôhhel (calx of tin mixed with sheep’s fat).

1817 T. Moore Lalla Rookh 11, Others mix the Kohol’s jetty die, To give that long, dark languish to the eye.

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Shall We Dance? -Part 2

Dancing the Quadrille at Almack’s

Today I’ll continue the dance series I began on July 6, with some notes about the cotillion and the quadrille, dances which were common in the early Regency and the late Regency, respectively. While there is a great deal of overlap in some characteristics of these dances, their prevalence in the ballroom does not seem to have overlapped much at all.


Jane Austen wrote to her niece Fanny in 1816, “Much obliged for the quadrilles, which I am grown to think pretty enough, though of course they are very inferior to the cotillions of my own day.” Jane was past her dancing prime by then and was referring to music sheets, but as so often happens even today, was not a fan of the “new” style of dancing that the younger people loved.

The Cotillion was a French country dance for four couples popular in England in the late 18th century. While it often began with a circling figure and included later small circles, most of the dance was performed in a square, with various “changes”, or figures that moved in and out of that main formation and allowed for changes of partners.

Because the cotillions came from France, many kept their French names. The only dance Jane Austen ever mentions by name, “La Boulangerie” is a cotillion. Here is a video so you can see what it was she so enjoyed.

There were many various types of cotillion dances: “waltz cotillions” and “allemande cotillions” for instance. They included some figures also commonly found in English country dances and reels, and later the quadrilles, so there is a shared basis between the types of dances.

For instance, four of the basic quadrille segments are also found in cotillions: Les Pantalons, L’Eté, La Poule and La Pastorale. Many steps are also shared, but in style and music the dances are quite different. Quadrille enthusiasts denounced the cotillion as old-fashioned and “belonging with the ancient minuet.”

The word “cotillion” changed during the 19th century from referring to the specific type of dances to the more modern usage, referring instead to a dance event, even specifically to a dance event for debutantes. Just know that during the Regency era, that was not what it meant!


Captain Gronow wrote in his memoirs about the first appearance of the Quadrille at London’s elite social venue, Almack’s: “In 1814, the dances at Almack’s were Scotch reels and the old English country-dance; and the orchestra, being from Edinburgh, was conducted by the then celebrated Neil Gow. It was not until 1815 that Lady Jersey introduced from Paris the favourite quadrille, which has so long remained popular.”

The quadrille became a craze, so popular that it overtook all other forms of dance being done at this time, except for the waltz (topic for Part 3 of this series), introduced at about the same time. Cartoonists of the day, such as Gilroy and Cruikshank, could not be expected to resist ridiculing such a vibrant fad, especially as it required some skill and practice. “Accidents while dancing the Quadrille” was a popular caption.

Like the cotillion, this was a dance form with four couples arranged in a square. Unlike the cotillion, it consisted of five sections or movements, each with its own complicated sequence of figures and music, with differing time signatures. Also unlike the cotillion, in the quadrille, the couples took turns performing the steps, with the head couples leading and the side couples resting until their turn. (Given the exertion required and the length of the dances, this was no doubt a blessing!)

This video gives a good sense of the dance –watch as much as you wish, just know it lasts 11 minutes and 19 seconds! Paine’s First Set of Quadrilles (1815)

Here is a video that shows “The Mozart Cotillion” being danced at Chawton House (yes, I thought you’d like that!) 🙂

I hope you are enjoying these dance notes and finding them helpful to visualize Regency dancing for your reading or writing pleasure! Part 3 on the Waltz will be posted on July 25.

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Shall We Dance? Pt 1 of 4

Do any of you participate in historical dancing? It is tons of fun. Regency dances fall into just a few categories: English Country Dances, Reels, Cotillions, Waltzes, and Quadrilles. Since I recently pulled together some dance information to prep people for an online ball, I thought I would share it here as well –especially since I have zero time right now! 🙂

1817 Clifton Assembly Room, by Rolinda Sharples (Brit Museum)

Today I’ll cover two staples of the early Regency ballrooms, English Country Dancing and Reels. In Part 2 I’ll do Cotillions (an even earlier dance form) and Quadrilles (the “latest craze” that came in and stayed). Since I have a lot to say about the Waltz (or Valse), that one will get a post all to itself as Part 3, and Part 4 will cover “How They Learned” and ways to remember what they learned!! Please check back to learn when we will schedule these. I promise the parts will run more often than once a month.

English Country dances have been around since the 1600’s, but by the Regency, the most popular form was a “longways set” –meaning done in a long line of couples, whereas early forms were often circles, or “closed” sets of two-to-four couples. The longways dances were also usually “progressive”, which meant the couples moved up or down the line to dance with new people after each repeat of the figures. Some dances involved only a two-couple pattern, but some involved three! At times there might be a couple (or two) at one end of the line or the other, waiting to re-enter the dance. In modern times, we now start all the “number ones” in the line at the same time, but in the Regency, it was usual to begin with only the first “first couple”, a special honor for them, and everyone else had to wait until the action and repeats of the dance reached them.

Here is a video of “The Leamington Dance” (1811) being danced slowly with a caller by modern EC dancers. If this is all new to you, it should give you a good sense of how a simple country dance works.

Here are links to a couple of nice videos of Regency English Country Dancing at costumed events: (Wakefield Hunt 1779 and The Duke of Kent’s Waltz 1801, fairly slow so you can see what’s going on); (Juliana 1810, Wilson)

Reels are a very lively form of dance where the participants weave in and out between each other. Popular in Scotland, they also were common in English Regency ballrooms, and could involve various numbers of dancers. (A 6-hand reel would involve three couples.) There is overlap between reels and ECD, since often country dances will include a section (called a “hay”) where the figures are essentially a reel, and sometimes an ECD will have “Reel” in the name (as they also sometimes had “Waltz”) just to confuse matters. 🙂

This video gives an idea of how a reel works, so you can spot one when you see one! BTW, that website is a great source of country dance information, if you want to know more. Much of it applies to both English and Scottish, although there are some differences. I will give some more good resources at the end of this blog series.

Do you have favorite dance scenes you loved in books or movies? What made them romantic and what did you like most about them?

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About All That Lace (and some pretty dresses)

1820 embroidered net overdress

Before we get into the lace-talk, I just wanted to alert those of you on Facebook to a new Regency group (I know, another one!) that has formed. Last week I was featured at Regency Kisses: Lady Catherine’s Salon (no, not THAT Lady Catherine!) and we went on a virtual/pictorial tour of England based on the settings in my books. Fun!

It’s an open group, although you have to join. We feature a different author each week, with giveaways and other entertaining activities. If you like this sort of thing, please consider checking us out. The “home” group of eight authors write “sweet with sizzle” Regencies, so if you like all heat levels, you might find some new-to-you authors to check out. Type the group name into the FB search bar and it should come up. Or, huh, I suppose I could be helpful and give you a link, eh? LOL.

Please don’t go right now! We still want you to keep on being loyal readers of the Risky Regencies blog. We keep considering changing to some other format, maybe even a FB group, but many of you aren’t on FB and don’t want to be, either, and we respect that….

So, my most recent research rabbit hole has been lace. This time it wasn’t for a story, though. I thought I was going to need a new Regency gown. The Beau Monde Chapter of the Romance Writers of America is 25 years old this year, and we are celebrating at our conference in NYC in July! A gown for the Soiree is optional, but I’ve always worn a gown when attending such events, and since I am a founding member, this seems an unlikely year to suddenly stop doing so.

Through a friend, I recently acquired an entire bolt of beautiful lace, and another large chunk of a different lace, also beautiful.

How pretty either one would be incorporated into a new Regency dress! I knew that the machines to produce English net dated to even before our period, and such net is often the base for lace designs, but when did they begin to be able to mimic hand-made lace with repeating patterns over a large area? I scoured through Ackermann’s prints, looking for dresses with full lace overskirts, and I quite naturally looked up the history of lace.

The introduction of machine-made net is quite well reflected in the styles of Regency gowns you can see in the fashion prints: net overdresses, sheer sleeves, etc. The machines, once refined, could even create patterns of intersecting strands and “spots” or stripes.

Ah, but actual patterned lace? That is a different thing altogether.

In our period, patterned lace was still made by hand, either using bobbins or various kinds of needlework techniques such as appliqué. You can find plenty of lace embellishment on gowns, but it is generally quite narrow, in bands or ruffled edges, because of the way it was made. Both needle and bobbin lace seem to have developed in Italy and Flanders during the early 16th century. Prior to that time, open-work decorative trims were made by cutting away and embroidering existing fabric. The new techniques created the openwork from threads, which could be linen, silk, gold or silver-bound silk, or much later, cotton.

Black spotted net overdress

The first machine lace was introduced in 1769, but the mesh raveled when cut. John Heathcoat developed a machine by 1809 that solved that issue and could produce “wide bobbin net”. But it wasn’t until 1837 that Heathcoat’s existing machine technology was successfully adapted (by Samuel Ferguson) to be able to produce a repeating pattern, as the jacquard machine looms could do. That is how the Victorians were able to have lovely lace curtains for their windows, and also makes sense of why they would, since it was a new and fashionable thing to have!

I could make a very pretty Regency gown using one of those laces I was given, but it wouldn’t be accurate, and that would always bother me. How would you feel? Even if I pretended the lace was all hand-done, I wouldn’t be comfortable, thinking of the huge amount of hours of poorly-paid labor that would have had to go into the making of it, if it were real. (I don’t think I know how to think like a super-wealthy aristocrat. Wouldn’t the lace-maker be grateful for my custom order and all that work?). Have any great alternative ideas for me to use all that lace?

In the meantime, it looks like I may be able to squeeze into my old dress, after all, with a few alterations. Here is a picture of me wearing it with Risky Elena, at the Beau Monde soiree back in 2003. (I do pretend the embroidery was hand-done. There’s a lot less of it!) I’ve worn it more recently than this photo, but not in years. I may not be able to move very much, LOL! Losing 25lbs would solve the problem, but I know that’s not going to happen!  J

Needlelace: and

Bobbin lace: and

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Pockets in the Regency and Beyond

That’s right. You heard me: POCKETS.

There have been so many bad takes out there on the history of pockets in the past couple of years. What they have in common is that they’re written by people who aren’t costume historians. Because I am here to tell you, pockets were a thing for women in our era of focus. They didn’t magically disappear and turn into to “reticules” as many people maintain (this was gospel once upon a time, but has been thoroughly disbunked).

When you look at period gowns (especially morning gowns and day dresses), you see “pocket holes” on a lot of them. These are invisible in most of the pictures you see on museum sites though, and their existence is often not noted in the description. But if you look at books like COSTUME IN DETAIL by Nancy Bradfield, you’ll quickly see that there are pocket holes all over the place.

Gown, 1806-1808. Note the “pocket hole” under the right arm.
Gown, 1815-1822. Note the “one slit” (aka a pocket hole) on the right side.
Gown, 1825-1828. Note the slit on the right that is specifically refrenced as an opening to reach the pocket.
Fuller undergarments c. 1825-1835. Pockets are still absolutely worn.
Posted in Clothing, History, Isobel Carr, Regency, Research | 1 Comment

“Drinking stars”? Champagne in the Regency

Champagne. Today we associate it with special occasions and luxury. Its bright, sparkling quality seems a natural fit with festivity. But what was its status during the Regency? “They didn’t have champagne during the Regency.” “They had champagne but it wasn’t bubbly.” “They couldn’t have it back then because the bottles exploded.” I hear comments like these frequently.

Research rabbit holes –don’t we love them? I had researched enough to be certain of the scene in my December release, Lord of Misrule, where the characters are drinking champagne at a fancy New Year’s ball. I avoided the full-on rabbit hole then (deadline pressure can stop that). But I’m not under as much pressure right now. Pursuing a different (but related) topic for one of the spin-off stories spawned by LOM has led me back to the rabbit hole of the history of champagne. Let’s find out the truth or error behind all those comments, shall we?

Some of the confusion seems to come from failing to distinguish between wines made in the Champagne region of France and the bubbly wine we call champagne, which did originate and take its name from there. Bubbly or “sparkling” wine has been around since wine started to be made. The Romans had sparkling wines. But bubbly wine wasn’t considered a good thing, originally. Bubbles in the wine were a flaw, along with the leftover sediment and cloudiness that usually accompanied the bubbles. Bubbles came from interrupted fermentation, a process that wasn’t well understood. Dom Pérignon, a 17th century Benedictine monk in the Champagne area, is sometimes credited as “the inventor” of champagne. But the truth is that no one “invented” it. It arises from a natural chemical process.

Legend has it that Dom Pérignon exclaimed, “Come, for I am drinking stars!” when he first tasted sparkling champagne wine. That hints at an enthusiasm history contradicts, for the monk actually dedicated much of his life to looking for ways to prevent the tendency of Champagne wines to fizz. In the process of his search, he did invent several techniques and advanced the understanding of how fermentation happens. But I suspect this “legend” may be a creation of the dedicated PR efforts of champagne makers expanding their markets during the later 19th century.

Champagne (the area) is in northeastern France, and the coldness of their winters often stopped the fermentation process until spring, when warmer temperatures triggered the process to start again. Wines produced in more southerly parts of France did not have this problem, and the Champagne wine makers, including the Benedictines, wanted to be able to compete. Besides this “inferior” quality that bedeviled their wines, French bottles were not very sturdy and the bottled bubbly wines did often explode, sometimes setting off a chain-reaction that could wipe out large portions of their stock.

The English actually can claim more of the credit for changing attitudes about sparkling Champagne wines, for they began to appreciate the bubbly stuff before anyone else. The English began to “make” champagne by adding extra sugar into the French wines when they were bottled, ensuring that additional fermentation would occur and create the “fizz”. From the 17th century English glass-makers used coal fires instead of wood fires as the French did, resulting in sturdier glass. By the 18th century they also introduced the process of using molds, producing a uniform vessel to contain the wines shipped over from France in barrels, and the use of cork stoppers, a practice lost since the Romans. Champagne wines shipped during the cold months and bottled by merchants in England would start fermenting again inside the English bottles, but due to the superior methods, the bottles would not explode.

The Marquis de St-Evremond is credited with making Champagne wines fashionable in London in the 1660s, a healthy development for the French wine exporters. France’s interest lagged behind until early in the next century, when Philip, Duke of Orléans, popularized sparkling champagne during his regency from 1715 to 1723. Between that time and the start of the French Revolution, many still-recognized “champagne  houses” were founded, specifically as makers of sparkling champagne. (Ruinart (1729), Moët & Chandon (1750), Louis Roederer (1776), Veuve Clicquot (1772), Abele (1757), and Taittinger (1734), among others). Many did not grow grapes at all, but purchased grapes or wine already pressed from the vineyards to make into champagne.

Still, in this period it is estimated that only about 10% of the wine produced in the Champagne region was turned into sparkling champagne. The rest was regular “still” wine, usually of a pale pinkish color. Sparkling champagne went from being the bane of wine-makers trade to a luxury item in high demand in courts and the highest society of Europe. The spread of its popularity was furthered by the French Revolution, which sent many of the French nobility fleeing to other parts of Europe, bringing their taste for champagne with them.

The Napoleonic wars caused blockades in many European ports, but enterprising champagne agents found ways to smuggle their product out of France all the same. During those war years, champagne was harder to procure and even dearer in price than before, but demand was high and people still obtained it. Napoleon’s march on Moscow helped to spread the popularity of champagne to Russia, for the wine merchants’ agents went to Russia along with and sometimes ahead of the armies.

Madame Clicquot with her great-granddaughter

A French woman was responsible not only for growing the popularity of champagne during our period but also for vastly improving the quality of the product. Married to businessman Franҫois Clicquot when she was 21 years old, she became a widow at age 27 when he died in 1805. Known then as “Veuve Clicquot” (the widow Clicquot), she took over the management of his businesses and focused on the production of champagne.

Her most famous improvement was the invention of “riddling”, a process which removed the cloudy sediment and dead yeasts which could mar the appearance and taste of champagnes up to that time. The problem of removing it without releasing all of the “fizz” had never been solved. Various dates (1812, 1815, 1816) are given for this accomplishment, as she tried to keep the process a secret after she developed it. However, evidence suggests it was in use by 1811-12 when her company produced their “Cuvée de la Comète,” the first ever “vintage champagne”, honoring that year’s famous comet. In 1812 or 14? Veuve Clicquot’s lead sales agent smuggled a quantity of the Comet Champagne into Russia, even though French wines had been banned by Tsar Alexander I after Napoleon’s invasion. The wine’s quality was so outstanding that even the Tsar became an eager customer.

Sparkling wine in riddling racks

I’ve left out a lot of information, of course. But I can see where the various comments I quoted at the beginning of this post each have some grain of truth buried in them. “They didn’t have champagne during the Regency.” (During the war years it was much harder to obtain, and it was not exactly the same wine that we drink today –sweeter, for one thing, from the added sugar.) “They had champagne but it wasn’t bubbly.” (Most of the wines produced in Champagne continued to be “still” wines. Also, the champagnes they did have might have fewer bubbles if they were decanted to try to remove the sediments.) “They couldn’t have it back then because the bottles exploded.” (Until the French caught up to the English methods of creating glass bottles and sealing them, this was definitely a problem in France (and probably some of the time everywhere!)

The science behind making champagne made great strides just after the Regency period, and with it came more improvements and refinements in taste. The system of identifying champagnes as “extra-dry” or the driest “brut” also date to the middle of the 19th century and later. But wealthy Regency people were definitely drinking champagne, we can have no doubt. Do you ever drink champagne? Do you have a favorite brand? Do you remember having champagne to celebrate a special occasion?

Recommended sites for more in depth reading:

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Regency Heroine Winners

Well, I want to say that everyone who offered suggestions for my “real Regency heroines” list are winners simply by being generous people who participated and expanded everyone’s knowledge of the period by doing so. But I did promise specifically to give away a free ebook or two, and since the response was so wonderful, I gave away four!!

The winners were chosen at random and they are: Sharon Farrell, Queen PoohBear, Harriet Robinson, and author Kim Lambert (who posted on FB). I included several people who posted on FB because I know not everyone finds it easy to post comments on the blog. Congratulations to all four winners! And thanks again to everyone for helping to create a most interesting roster of admirable women!

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April Fools


This was first posted on April 1, 2013, but it is just as relevant today (because today is also April 1!)

What is the origin of April Fools Day?

No one knows for sure, but it is speculated that it came about when the French calendar was reformed in the sixteenth century, moving the start of the year from March to January 1. Some people who clung to the old calendar and continued to celebrate the New Year from March 25 to April 1, had tricks played on them. The pranksters would stick paper fish on their backs. Thus they were called Poisson d’Avril, ‘April Fish,’ the name the French call April Fools even today.

April fools jokes have continued through the years. Near “our” time period a clever one was pulled off.


In 1860 a postcard was sent to several people admitting two to the Tower of London to view the annual ceremony of washing the White Lions on April 1. The invitees were instructed that they would be admitted only at the White Gate.

On April 1, several cabs were driving around Tower Hill looking for the White Gate—which, of course, didn’t exist.

April Fool!!

What was the best April Fools joke you played on someone or one someone played on you?

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30 Real Regency Heroines

Here we are at the end of Women’s History Month. The response to my request for suggestions of “real Regency heroines” has been outstanding, and I have to say almost none of these following admirable women were on Wikipedia’s list of 53 “Women of the Regency”, although nearly all do have write-ups there. I wonder what criteria they were using for that list?? Anyway, many, many thanks to everyone who contributed. I am actually going to award several free ebooks because so many people participated (I will post that separately next week after all have been awarded and accepted.)

I want to offer special thanks to author Judith Laik, who generously sent me her notes from a past talk on women scientists of our period. The first 20 women below were contributed by various people (and sometimes multiple people), in the comments here at Riskies or to me via Facebook or email. The last 10 are from Judith’s talk, the entries shortened by me. How many of these women were already familiar to you? I purposely left out some of the most famous Regency heroines, and I am the first to say this list is hardly complete. I take full responsibility for the editing of the summaries. I hope you enjoy reading through it!

1. Mary Anning (1799-1849) English fossil collector and paleontologist who became known around the world for her important finds in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis. Her discovery of fossilized dinosaur skeletons contributed to important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.

2. Anna Atkins  (1799–1871) –botanist and photographer. Often considered the first to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. After receiving an unusually scientific education (for a woman), she pursued botany and illustrated her father’s book on shells. After marriage, she continued her scientific interests, and learned about early forms of chemical photography developed by friends of her father and her husband, William Henry Fox Talbot and Sir John Herschel (Caroline Herschel’s nephew). Anna proved Herschel’s cyanotype process to be of practical use by illustrating the first installment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions with it in October of the same year he invented it (1842).

3. Dr James Barry (Margaret Ann Bulkley)  (c. 1789–1865) Born in Ireland as Margaret Ann Bulkley and known as female in childhood, for multiple reasons Barry adopted the identity of a man to be accepted as a university student and pursue a career as a surgeon. Over the course of a long military career Barry achieved the rank of Inspector General (equivalent to Brigadier General) in charge of military hospitals, the second highest medical office in the British Army. Barry not only improved conditions for wounded soldiers, but also the conditions for native inhabitants, and performed the first caesarean section in Africa in which both the mother and child survived. (He had hoped to keep his gender secret to the grave, but his wishes were thwarted when he died. He wouldn’t have wanted to be on this list.)

4. Sophie Blanchard (1778-1819)- Napoleon’s official balloonist and aerial advisor, she was the first woman to pilot her own balloon and the first to make ballooning her career. She began as the wife of Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the world’s first professional balloonist, and continued after he died (in a balloon accident) just five years after she started. She became extremely famous throughout Europe and often performed in Italy. She performed 67 balloon ascents before she was killed in a balloon accident at the age of 41.

5. Etheldred Benett (1776-1845)-one of the first female geologists in Britain. Her collection of Wiltshire fossils was extensive, and she was respected by many in the field. Since she had her own money, she even published her own monograph. Her wonderful name could be confusing to some and led to the unexpected: She was awarded membership in the Natural History Society of Moscow, and Tsar Nicholas I granted her an honorary doctorate. They did not realize she was a woman.

6. Eleanor Coade (both mother and daughter with the same name) – operated a highly successful ceramic (artificial stone) factory in Lambeth, either inventing or at least improving the material itself, and supplying vast quantities of building materials, reproduction statues, decoration, etc in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Their secret formula for “Coadestone” was lost, sadly, since the material has held up extremely well over the centuries and never has been replicated.

7. Mrs Coutts –(1777-1837) “Lady Jersey and Mrs. Coutts owned shares in banks and were active in the management of them. Coutts was a philanthropist as was her heir, her step grand-daughter Angela, Lady Burdett -Coutts. They gave the lie to the opinion that women couldn’t handle money.” (description by Nancy Mayer) Mrs Coutts was Harriet Mellon, a stage actress who married Thomas Coutts, a very successful Scottish-born banker, after his wife died. He was older and left her a very wealthy woman when he died. She managed her affairs (apparently of all kinds) extremely well, and later married again, to the 9th Duke of St. Albans, having gone from “a poor little player child” (her words) to a Duchess at the pinnacle of society. She wanted Sir Walter Scott to write her life’s story.

8. Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)–a significant German-born astronomer who discovered several comets and worked with her better-known older brother (astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel) and kept his house. She was the first woman to be awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1828), and to be named an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society (1835, with Mary Somerville) among other honors. She was also the first woman in England honored with a paid government position, and the first woman to be paid for her work in astronomy.

9. Hannah Humphrey (c. 1745-1818)– While not the only London woman printer, she was the most successful of them. After getting started with her brother, she ran her print business on St. James’s Street and published such notables as Gilray, Rowlandson, and James Sayer, providing an important outlet for their social and political caricatures. Gilray boarded with her for much of his career, and she tended to him during the last years of his life.

10. Ellen Hutchins –(1785-1815)-First female Irish botantist. She contributed hundreds of specimens and drawings to the study of plants. She was well regarded during her short life (died at age 30) and has quite a few plants named after her, all native to the areas of Ireland where she lived. Her legacy can be seen in major museum collections and is celebrated at the Ellen Hutchins Festival (annual event since 2015).

11. Mary Linwood -(1755–1845)-Another spinster who achieved great success, Mary was an educator who ran a school (started by her mother) for 50 years, but her great fame came from her art. By the time she was 20 she had raised needlework to the level of fine art, specializing in full sized copies of great masters and famous paintings rendered in worsted wool. The 100 such pictures she produced were exhibited in many major cities and even Russia. Queen Charlotte had her to Windsor, and she also met many other European heads of state, including Napoleon, whose portrait she did from life. Her exhibition in Leicester Square, London, was the first art show to be illuminated by gaslight. Embroidery historians credit her for inspiring the practice of needlepoint. Her niece, also Mary Linwood, was a composer and author.

12. Ada Byron Lovelace (Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, and daughter of Lord Byron)  -(1815-1852) Writer and mathematician. Her notations in research on Charles Babbage’s proposed “analytical engine” make her the first computer programmer, presenting the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine (1843). Although the engine was never built, Ada saw the potential for much more than mere calculation of numbers.

13. Jane Marcet –(1769-1858). Early science popularizer for young readers, women, and working people. Among other works, her Conversations on Chemistry (1806, 1811) ran to sixteen editions, introducing Michael Faraday (1791-1867) to the topic. (He later became one of the world’s most famous electrochemists.)

14. Hannah More –(1745-1833) Educator, playwright, religious writer, poet, social activist and philanthropist, blue-stocking (is that all?). Hard to sum up in a few sentences, because she did so much. Numerous schools owe their existence to her, and her anti-slavery writings were passionate, but her ultra conservative views in later life have tarnished her reputation.

15. Mrs Mountain –Another (probably a widow) who proved women could succeed in business: she owned the Saracen’s Head, Snow Hill, in Holborn with a coachbuilder’s shop on the premises, owned the Louth Mail (ie, had the contract for that route), and owned partnerships in several stage coaches.

16. Mary Reibey née Molly Haydock (1777–1855) Deported to Australia at age 15 (for horse-theft after she ran away from working in service), she married at age 17 and took over her husband’s business holdings when widowed at age 34. As an Australian merchant, ship owner and trader, she was viewed as a role model of success and became legendary as a successful businesswoman in the colony. (Australian 20-dollar notes carry her picture.)

17. Duchess of Richmond –for her courage in hosting a ball in the teeth of war on the night before Waterloo

18. Mary Fairfax Somerville  -1780-1872. Scottish science writer and mathematician, she shared with Caroline Hershel the achievement of being the first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society. Mary’s strength was more in mathematics and algebra, but she branched out into other areas where she wrote books on chemistry, magnetism, physics and math that were used as textbooks for almost a century. She also translated the seminal French astronomical book, The Mechanisms of the Heavens by LaPlace. She also started schools for girls and children of the middle and lower classes in Britain. She also tutored Byron’s daughter Augusta (1815-52) in mathematics, so perhaps we could say she was the “grandmother” of modern computers.

19. Hester Stanhope –“who set out for adventures in the Middle East, after her uncle, William Pitt the Younger, died. She kept house for him while he was prime minister, then flung respectability to the far winds and set out for pastures new. Or rather, deserts new” (love this description by Lynne Connolly).

20. Ann & Jane Taylor –Literary sisters. Both women wrote poetry for children as well as stories and novels, essays, and plays. Ann’s son wrote in her biography, “Two little poems – ‘My Mother,’ and ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little Star’ – are perhaps, more frequently quoted than any; the first, a lyric of life, was by Ann, the second, of nature, by Jane; and they illustrate this difference between the sisters.”

Added from Judith Laik’s talk on “Regency Women Scientists” 

21. Sarah Kirby Trimmer –(1741-1810). Philanthropist, early children’s writer and popularizer of science. She and her husband had twelve children, raised ten of them to adulthood. She founded several Sunday schools and charity schools, and wrote textbooks and manuals for other women who wished to establish schools. She wrote in a wide range of genres: textbooks, teaching manuals, children’s literature, political pamphlets and critical periodicals.

22. Sarah Bowditch Lee –(1791-1856) Illustrator & writer, she began as illustrator for her husband on a scientific expedition, during which he died. She finished the work, followed it with one entirely her own (Fresh Water Fishes of Great Britain, Drawn and Described by Mrs. T. Edward Bowdich,1828). She went on to write fiction, a biography of the geologist Baron Cuvier, and a book on taxidermy, supporting herself and her family by her illustration and writing.

23. Mary Moreland Buckland  (1797-1857). Talented illustrator and collector of fossils. Her husband, William Buckland (1784-1856) was an English geologist, paleontologist and Dean of Westminster, who wrote the first full account of a fossil dinosaur, which he named Megalosaurus. Married in 1825, they visited noted geologists and geological sites on their honeymoon. She assisted in his work, in between giving birth to nine children, of whom five survived to adulthood. Mary helped her husband prove that footprints found in a slab of sandstone were of a tortoise by covering the kitchen table with paste while he brought in their pet tortoise to cast and compare its footprints.

24. Margaret Bryan — Educator and popularizer of science. She published three standard scientific textbooks during the final years of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth. Her first book, A Compendious System of Astronomy, dedicated to the pupils at her school, was published in 1797. The last of her three books, A Comprehensive Astronomical and Geographical Class Book for the use of Schools and Private Families, was published in 1815.

25. Elizabeth Gould (1804-41). One of the outstanding bird illustrators of her time, Elizabeth accompanied her husband, John Gould (1804-81), on expeditions to gather information for their series of books. The Gould Bird books were respected reference materials for ornithologists and amateurs. Gould had to leave several of her eight children behind while she traveled to Australia to illustrate what would become the seven-volume Birds of Australia (1840-48). She also, ahead of her time, was interested in the ecology of the Australian bush, noting the intimate interconnection between birds and plants. Sadly she died before the series was completed.

26. Elizabeth Twining (1805-89). Elizabeth Twining, of the tea-growing family, was a botanical illustrator. Self-taught, when young she studied The Botanical Magazine to learn about plants. She visited botanical gardens to study living specimens. In 1849 she published the first volume of her popular Illustrations of the Natural Order of Plants with Groups and Descriptions, the second volume in 1855. She also wrote Ten Years in a Ragged School and Readings for Mothers Meetings. Twining was also a philanthropist. She restored almshouses, established a hospital for the poor, and a home for destitute girls.

27. Anne Pratt (1806-93). Another nature illustrator and writer. As a child, Anne Pratt studied every kind of plant. In 1828 she began to write, illustrate, and publish nearly twenty books about native British flowers, fields, woodlands, sedges, ferns, and sea plants, including Flowering Plants and Ferns of Great Britain, a five-volume text first published in 1855 and covering every order of British plants. Her most popular volume was Wild Flowers (1852-53), a work illustrated in block prints and intended for children.

28. Jane Webb Loudon (1807-58). Botanist and novelist. Her career began with The Mummy, A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century in 1827. John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), a well-known landscape gardener and horticultural writer, read her book, arranged to meet her and married her. Jane became his companion and secretary, learned and shared in his business. She collaborated with him on a gardening encyclopedia, and wrote books on botany and gardening published in the 1840’s which sold extremely well. She also founded and edited a weekly, The Ladies’ Companion at Home and Abroad. She was able to support herself and her daughter with her work after her husband died, contributing to the movement in science popularization and children’s literature.

29. Mary Horner Lyell  (1808-1873). Familiar with science first through her father (geologist Leonard Horner) and then through assisting her husband (Sir Charles Lyell, 1797-1875), Mary became an accomplished British geologist and conchologist. She accompanied her husband whenever possible as he traveled extensively in Europe and North America. Her husband’s book Principles of Geology was considered essential to Darwin in the development of his evolutionary theory.

30. Margaret Gatty (1809-73). Writer of educational science books for children and student of marine algae. She intensively researched the subject for fourteen years before publishing her British Sea-weeds (1863). She also authored Parables from Nature (various editions 1855-71), one of the most popular children’s books of the Victorian period. She also founded a children’s magazine, Aunt Judy’s Magazine, named for her daughter, Juliana Horatia Ewing.

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